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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The redesigned 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 possesses a heritage that none of its sport utility siblings can claim.

It is the direct descendant of the 1998 Mercedes ML320, originally described as the M-Class All-Activity Vehicle. It astounded the motoring public as the first SUV from a luxury manufacturer with an affordable price tag of $34,545.

All-new Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV to start at $53,700

By the standards then and now, it was a midsize. It also was a true SUV with truck-like body-on-frame construction, and solid off-road capabilities with an all-wheel drive system that could get you out of trouble even if only one wheel had traction.

Moreover, it was a true five-passenger vehicle, with a flat floor and three separate and equal back seats. It was unlike most vehicles nowadays, most of which are crossover SUVs with unit-body construction like automobiles. They usually disrespect any center-rear passenger with a narrow, hard cushion and little if any comfort. The GLE450 follows that trend.

Over the 22 years since the ML320, Mercedes switched it to unit-body construction and designed additional crossovers, to the point where it now has four: small GLA, compact GLC, midsize GLE and full-size GLS. It also markets the G-Class, a military-style truck-like SUV.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Interestingly, the 2020 GLE450 comes across as a modern iteration of the original — better in most ways but not as good as in some. Besides the lack of comfort for the third-row passenger, and despite the fact that it is more than a foot longer than the ML320, it has less interior room.

The ML320 had 105 cubic feet of space for passengers and a generous cargo area of 45 cubic feet. The new GLE has 102 cubic feet for passengers and 38 cubic feet for cargo.

Of course, the GLE has way more sophistication, safety equipment and power than its predecessor. With twin turbochargers, its new inline six-cylinder engine makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four-wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

The 1998 ML320’s 3.2-liter V6 engine had a five-speed automatic transmission to handle 215 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy was rated at 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. Now, using the EPA’s new system, the city/highway/combined rating for the GLE works out to 19/24/21 mpg.

Other than years, the biggest gap between the original and the new GLE450 is price. The ML320’s price of $34,545, including the destination charge, as tested by this reviewer, pretty much covered everything. The standard upholstery was a sturdy cloth trimmed with leatherette that usually outlasted the optional leather. You also could order such options as side-step rails and a multiple-disc CD changer mounted in the cargo area.

In today’s dollars, that ML320 would cost $53,890. The 2019 450GLE tested for this review had a base price of $62,145 and, with options, the bottom-line sticker came to a whopping $85,120.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Of course, the standard equipment and $22,975 worth of options included items not dreamed of two decades ago: Automatic emergency braking, active lane-keeping assist, Distronic adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic braking, rear collision protection, idle stop-start technology, blind-spot monitor, navigation with voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, four-zone automatic climate control, heated and cooled cup holders and front seats, powered rear- and side-window sun blinds, and even a way to perfume the passenger pod. To name a few.

The instruments and infotainment center screen are combined in a broad display across the dash that looks something like a wide-screen video game. Functions are accessed by a controller for the screen and a tiny button on the steering wheel to change instrument views. Younger owners will adapt immediately; older folks will require lessons.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

On the road, the GLE450 exhibits everything you expect from a modern Mercedes. The steering has a substantial, heavy feel. The luxurious interior is isolated from almost all nasty environmental noises. Seats are designed for long-distance support and comfort.

Though it’s a tall, nearly 2.5-ton machine, the GLE450 comports itself well on twisting roads, though of course it’s no sports sedan. The optional air suspension system keeps the wheels planted and the ride supple, though there is some delayed pitching and bouncing on undulating roads.

Time marches on. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 incorporates way more performance, comfort and convenience than the original M-Class. But it’s an evolution. The ML320 was a game changer. Which is better?

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder; turbocharged, 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall Length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: TBA/TBA.
  • Weight: 4,990 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $62,145.
  • Price as tested: $85,120.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

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2019 Buick Envision: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some potential customers might hesitate because the 2019 Buick Envision is, in fact, a Chinese-made crossover sport utility vehicle with 86% of its parts made in China, not a quintessentially American vehicle.

Nowadays, almost everything you pick up is made in China: shoes, clothing, appliances, you name it. We haven’t minded much, even when the quality may not be great, because the prices are competitive. There’s also a soft spot because China was our ally in WWII, though not in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

2019 Buick Envision

It’s an old story. After World War II, Japanese products started coming into the U.S. They were widely derided — cheap but of poor quality. Later, after the American reconstruction of Japan, the situation reversed, especially with automobiles, when Japanese cars like Toyota and Honda became quality benchmarks.

In recent years, South Korea followed Japan and delivers high quality cars and crossovers from Hyundai and Kia.

Now we’re seeing increasing numbers of vehicles made in China, which has become the world’s biggest market for cars and light trucks. In 2018, sales in China totaled more than 23 million, compared to more than 17 million in the United States. Chinese manufacturers are exploring exporting vehicles here.

2019 Buick Envision

We can visualize the Envision, Buick’s luxury compact crossover, as a bellwether for vehicles to come. Moreover, it is well designed and  has earned good quality and reliability ratings.

Tested for this review was the all-wheel drive Premium II trim level. It had a base price of $44,795 and, with options, a not-inexpensive sticker of $48,435.

It came with full safety equipment, some optional. Included were automatic collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, surround-vision rear camera, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and a head-up display.

2019 Buick Envision

A full suite of connectivity features included OnStar services and Buick Infotainment with an eight-inch center screen, navigation with voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and SXM satellite radio.

Though some other modern luxury cars have systems that are irritatingly complex, the Envision keeps things simple. For example, instead of going through a series of annoying steps to pre-set radio and satellite stations, in the Envision you simply find the station and touch the screen to save it.

Comfort and convenience features included tri-zone climate control, power tailgate, perforated leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard back seats, memory settings for front seats and outside mirrors, panoramic sunroof with opaque sunshade and one-touch operation, and a Bose premium audio system.

2019 Buick Envision

The tested Envision was powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque A nine-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the pavement. A stop-start system contributes to city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/25/22 mpg.

Though not as luxurious as some competitors like the Acura RDX and the as-yet untested 2020 Lincoln Corsair, the Envision has a well-designed interior. Front seats and outboard back seats are comfortable but without much bolstering. The floor is flat in back, but the center-rear seat has a hard cushion.

Outside mirrors are mounted on the doors with a small window pane forward so shorter drivers can see curbs and other obstacles. A nice touch: all four outside door handles have lock/unlock buttons.

2019 Buick Envision

Controls are intuitive and white on black backlighted instruments are easy to see and comprehend. One shortcoming: the nine-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually but with a dinky button on the side of the shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles or a separate slot on the shift gate.

On the road, the Envision comports itself capably but without any sporting pretensions. The ride is compliant and comfortable, and the steering and handling feel secure under most circumstances, though you would not want to chase somebody in a sports sedan on twisting mountain roads.

2019 Buick Envision

The turbo engine delivers acceleration that will not be embarrassing in the urban stoplight sprints. Punch the pedal to the floor and you could hit 60 mph in the neighborhood of seven seconds. But the Envision is more endearing as a comfortable around-town and freeway cruiser, as befits its luxury orientation.

In the end, with this entry in the compact luxury crossover category, design and features trump country of origin. It may be built in China with Chinese parts but the Envision is a modern Buick through and through.

2019 Buick Envision

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Buick Envision AWD Premium II four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 252 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet. (57)
  • Weight: 4,083 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Based price, including destination charge: $44,795.
  • Price as tested: $48,435.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Buick Envision

Photos (c) Buick

2019 Honda Passport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In the ongoing struggle for supremacy on the crossover sport utility battlefield, Honda re-enlists a veteran name for an all-new combatant, the 2019 Passport.

It has not been around for 17 years, having left the market after the 2002 model year. The original Passport was the result of a partnership with Isuzu, another Japanese manufacturer, which re-badged its Rodeo SUV as the Passport.

The 2019 Passport goes on sale Feb 4

The other half of the equation was that Honda re-badged its Odyssey minivan as an Isuzu Oasis.

That first Passport was an SUV of its time, built like a truck with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, a five-speed manual gearbox and a 120-hp, 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine. A 3.2-liter V6 with 175 hp and a four-speed automatic transmission was optional.

Though there still are truck-based SUVs around, crossover sales have been exploding, dominating sales of traditional sedans. In 2018, crossovers achieved a 38% share of the vehicle market compared to 31% for cars. Crossover SUVs are built like cars, with unit bodies and, usually, front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive.

2019 Honda Passport

Though justifiably proud of its sedans, Honda is a captive of the trend. In 2018, the company sold 624,122 crossovers — the small HR-V, compact CR-V and three-row Pilot. The number does not include its Odyssey minivan or Ridgeline pickup truck, both classified as light trucks.

In the same year, Honda sold a total of 684,815 cars, including five models: the compact Civic, midsize Accord, subcompact Fit, hybrid Insight and the Clarity, available as an electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-fueled electric.

Honda claims supremacy in sales for its Civic and Accord. But unlike other makes, it counts only retail sales to individuals, not fleet sales to rental car and other multiple-unit buyers.

2019 Honda Passport

With the 2019 Passport, Honda’s offerings likely will soon tilt in favor of crossovers over cars, no matter how they are counted. That’s because the Passport plugs a gap in the company’s crossover lineup.

It’s a midsize, based on and slotted just below the three-row Pilot and above the compact CR-V and entry-level HR-V, which is marketed as a subcompact but is so roomy it would be considered midsize if it were a car. The U.S. government classifies cars by interior volume as subcompact, compact, midsize and large. Crossovers are classified by whatever you think.

The new Passport is nothing like its predecessor. Its wheelbase — the distance between the centers of its front and rear wheels — is the same as the larger Pilot but it is 6.2 inches shorter overall. Front and rear overhangs are tidier, giving the Passport better approach, departure and break-over angles for off-roading.

2019 Honda Passport

Of course, no crossover can rival a properly-equipped Jeep or Land Rover dedicated for off-roading. But the Passport acquitted itself well at the national introduction on unpaved roads in gorgeous but desolate areas surrounding Moab, Utah, including the spectacular Arches National Park.

As Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue” told it, the Passport handles competently in the “mud, the blood and the beer,” with Honda’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system. It can send up to 70% of the torque — or twisting force — to the rear wheels and 100% to the left or right wheels.

2019 Honda Passport

The tested Passport Elite, pushed too fast on a pockmarked unpaved road, went airborne over a sharp berm and seemed destined for a front-to-rear somersault, yet crunched smartly to a landing on all four wheels. Whew.

But the Passport is a slick piece of work on paved highways as well. In an era when 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, both naturally aspirated and turbocharged, are becoming standard in luxury as well as popular-priced vehicles, the Passport comes with a tried-and-true Honda and Acura 3.5-liter V6 engine that exhibits the relaxed confidence of a great athlete coach trotting along with a group of marathon-wannabe pre-teens.

2019 Honda Passport

The V6 delivers 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque to the front or all four wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission controlled by the Honda/Acura console-mounted pushbutton control. The system has been faulted by some critics, but not here. It is simple and intuitive: one-finger push for “drive” and “park,” pull for “reverse.”

There are four Passport trim levels, starting with the front-drive Sport at $33,045, including the destination charge. Others are the EX-L at $37,455 and Touring at $40,325. Tack on $1,900 for all-wheel drive. The tested top-line Elite, priced at $44,725, comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Can’t get no satisfaction? Give the Passport a try.

2019 Honda Passport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda Passport Elite four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 115/41 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,237 pounds.
  • Maximum towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,725.
  • Price as tested: $44,725.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Honda Passport

Photos (c) Honda

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In an era when some vehicle designers equate complexity with desirability, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 rolls onstage as an easygoing, friendly travel companion.

Almost everything about it feels familiar, as if you’ve already had a relationship. It has comfort and available luxury, but without a goofy shift lever or an infotainment system where annoying fiddling is required just to set favorite radio stations.

2019_mazda_cx-5-6Climb aboard. In the tested top-of-the-line Signature model, you sit in a comfortable, well-bolstered perforated leather seat, heated and ventilated. Through the steering wheel you view bright white-on-black easy-to-read analog instruments.

The shifter has a traditional PRND shift pattern, though there’s a sideways M setting for manual shifting of the six-speed automatic transmission. Nearby is a switch for the parking brake — up for park, down for driving — next to a toggle switch that engages the sport driving mode, which enhances throttle response. You don’t have to look to operate them. Same for the radio volume knob.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-04-intStraight ahead, in your line of vision, is the head-up display. It delivers information about speed, road signs and the adaptive cruise control, which is easily engaged with buttons on the steering wheel.

In the center, at the top of the dash, is the infotainment screen. Sure, it’s small, not gigantic like the one on the Tesla Model 3. But it’s right where you can see with a quick glance what’s going on. No peering at it for anxious seconds.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-09-detailFunctions are operated by a knob on the console, which is more complicated than a touch screen but doesn’t require as much focused attention to the screen. Simple console buttons change what’s displayed.

The word for this is ergonomics, the science that seeks to adapt working conditions to the worker. It also applies to making the driving experience intuitive and transparent. Good ergonomics, of course, is not exclusive to Mazda. But the CX-5 is a particularly fine example of thoughtful design.

Yet for all of its old-shoe friendliness, the CX-5 is a thoroughly modern Millie. It is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle competing in a class that includes the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox.

Because of Mazda’s current effort to move its models upscale, the CX-5, particularly in its luxury-equipped Signature version, sells for a few thousands of dollars more than the top-line CR-V and RAV4 models.

The tested CX-5 Signature had a base price of $37,885 and, with a few options, had a bottom-line sticker of $39,030. But its equipment and features rivaled those of luxury crossovers like the Cadillac XT4 and Infiniti QX50, both of which are more expensive, well into the mid-$50,000 range.

2019_mazda_cx-5-1Mazda is not a huge player among manufacturers, not even in the compact crossover category. Yet as part of the current onrushing trend toward crossovers, the CX-5 is Mazda’s best seller in the U.S., totaling more sales than all of the company’s other models combined.

Aware of its lagging sales compared to its competitive set, Mazda has set out to distinguish the CX-5 in multiple ways that contribute to the driving experience. In that, performance enhances ergonomics.

There are five trim levels, starting with the Sport at $25,345. Others are the Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and the tested Signature. Only the last two get Mazda’s new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The others use a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-banger with 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque.

cx9engine-201-1The turbo motor delivers enough grunt to accelerate the Signature model to 60 mph in slightly over six seconds — more than respectable in this era. Though it can be accomplished simply by punching the pedal to the floor, the Sport mode facilitates it by holding the shifts to higher revs. You can shift manually but only with the shift lever. There are no paddles on the steering wheel.

Handling is sedan-like with no apparent lean on curves. Straight-line driving requires few steering corrections and the CX-5 cruises quietly with a bit of engine noise only on acceleration. With the suspension system biased toward handling, the ride gets a bit choppy on rough roads.

There’s plenty of head and knee room for four persons, though the fifth center-rear position is impossibly cramped. The rear seatbacks are split in three and fold nearly flat to almost double the cargo space of 31 to 60 cubic feet.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-02-extSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/31 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,825 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/27/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,885.
  • Price as tested: $39,030.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2017-mazda-cx-5-grand-touring-5Photos (c) Mazda

2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It doesn’t crumble and has plenty of frosting, but you could argue that the 2019 Jeep Cherokee is the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.

Most people think of Jeeps as Wranglers, rugged vehicles that can conquer any terrain anywhere but don’t offer much in creature comforts. In fact, Wrangler buyers want to be exposed to hardships, unprotected from the elements. That’s why roofs and doors can be removed, and modifications made to alter suspension systems to rock and roll over any obstacle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

What is less noted about the current crop of Jeeps is refinement. The new-generation 2018 Wrangler Unlimited four-door wagon was remarkable for its coming-of-age as a family station wagon that handles well in traffic and around curves, tracks steadily in a straight line and delivers long-distance comfort that can eliminate complaints from the kids and other passengers. Yet it can still handle trackless terrain.

The same could be said, with more emphasis, about the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland tested for this review. This is a conventional compact crossover sport utility vehicle with pleasant styling, smooth and quiet operation, and the amenities that crossover buyers seek.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland and Cherokee Trailhawk

Sure, the doors don’t come off and the windshield doesn’t fold down. But the Cherokee is, in its soul, a Jeep with off-road capabilities that other manufacturers would envy — if they even bothered.

Most crossovers in this category simply offer front-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive that responds to on-road and limited off-road conditions. Drivers of all-wheel drive models don’t have to think about anything; simply get in and drive.

But the Cherokee comes with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which allows the driver to choose the system for disparate conditions — after which it operates automatically. They are labeled as Automatic, Snow, Sand/Mud and Sport. They give the Cherokee capabilities that most other crossovers lack.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Still, it’s no Wrangler. If you are the sort whose idea of a vacation trip is bashing around trackless and boulder-strewn terrain at somewhere around two to five miles per hour, buy a Wrangler. The Cherokee can do some of that but is more of a multi-task machine, not great at everything but competent at most. On-road, it is the peer of most mid-priced compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and even more expensive crossovers like the BMW X3 xDrive 3.0i.

The model tested for this review was the Cherokee Overland 4X4 model, which had a base price of $38,890, including the destination charge. The name prompts nostalgia because original Jeeps in World War II were built by the Willys Overland company.

As tested, it came with optional adaptive cruise control, panoramic motorized glass sunroof, collision warning with crash mitigation, brake assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection, leather upholstery and automatic high-beam headlight control.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Standard equipment includes Apple Car Play, Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and power front seats with memory for the driver’s seat. With other features, the bottom-line sticker came to $41,510.

Unlike many other crossovers powered by the now-ubiquitous 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, naturally aspirated or turbocharged, the Cherokee is motivated by a 271-hp, 3.2-liter V6 engine that delivers 239 lb-ft of torque. The power gets to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission, which gave Jeep problems and delayed the original launch of the Cherokee, but which now is as refined as the rest of the vehicle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Around town, the Cherokee has a responsive throttle that delivers sprightly acceleration. Highway cruising is comfortable and quiet with fatigue-free straight-line tracking. Curving roads are not daunting unless you have a lead foot on the go pedal.

As with other vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), it has one of the more intuitive infotainment interfaces, with a large center-mounted screen. Setting radio pre-sets, for example, is a simple matter of tuning to the station and touching the screen briefly — unlike some vehicles that force to you go through maddening steps.

Passenger space is about the same as in a midsize car, offering good head and knee space front and rear. Only the center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a hard cushion, large floor hump and intrusion of the center console. Better to think of the Cherokee as a four-passenger vehicle with a spot for a backpack or purse. Seatbacks recline but not much, and they fold almost flat for extra cargo if needed.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland

 

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.2-liter V6; 271 hp, 239 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with selective four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/28 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,960 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,890.
  • Price as tested: $41,510.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Photos (c) FCA North America

2019 Nissan Maxima and Murano: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Even when you are fundamentally healthy like Nissan’s 2019 Maxima sedan and Murano crossover SUV, it never hurts to add some bling to enhance your appeal.

Usually it happens midway through a model run. In the automobile biz, they call it a refresh — changes that present a new face and personality to prospective customers.

2019 Nissan Maxima-7Both the sport- and luxury-oriented Maxima sedan and the Murano midsize crossover are marketed by Nissan as top-of-the line flagships. Though they do not compete in the luxury segment — that’s the job of the company’s Infiniti brand — the 2019 designs nudge them closer. They are intended to appeal to buyers who want luxury content without big price tags.

Of the two, the Maxima needs the most help. Reflecting the nation-wide trend among buyers toward crossovers and away from sedans, the Maxima’s sales have dropped precipitously in 2018. The Murano, on the other hand, is on a path to increase sales.

MikeDitzPhoto.com

The Maxima competes in the near-luxury, large car class, although like Toyota’s Avalon, it actually is classified by the government as a midsize car.

From a performance standpoint, the Maxima doesn’t need a thing. It is powered by a 300-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 261 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels through Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination earns a city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/30/24 mpg.

Some critics deride CVTs, which have no shift points, as noisy and sluggish. But Nissan arguably has more experience with them than any manufacturer and it shows on the Maxima. Throttle response is quick, smooth and powerful. Also, the Maxima handles curving roads like a sports sedan. Straight-line cruising is quiet and effortless with few steering corrections needed.

2019 Nissan Maxima-16The new appeal is mostly about appearances, especially on the tested top-line Maxima Platinum with the Reserve package, though there are safety enhancements as well. With a bottom-line sticker of $43,835, it was loaded with the full 2019 package of safety and luxury enhancements.

One is Nissan’s new rear door alert. The system notes if you open a rear door to stash a package — or a child — in the back seat. At the end of the trip, if you leave without re-opening the back door, it will sound the horn.

Other freshening included Nissan’s V-Motion styling, which sends body lines flowing from the distinctive grille up and over the body. LED headlights and taillights punctuate the styling and augment interior color schemes and accents. The taillights give the impression of width and streamlining.

2019 Nissan Maxima-13The Maxima’s Reserve package, with a $1,140 price tag, includes heated rear seats, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, “Rakuda tan” leather upholstery with diamond-quilted seating areas, two-tone leather covered steering wheel, charcoal headliner and pillars, and satin bronze interior trim.

Similarly, the Murano moves closer to luxury territory with new colors like its rusty-shiny “Sunset Drift Chromaflair.”  Along with the Maxima, it also incorporates the company’s Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking, rear braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-sport warning. One apparent shortcoming: there’s no mention of lane-departure assist.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-10Though not as powerful as its sibling Maxima, the Murano contains enough oomph to avoid embarrassment in the stoplight sprints or on the freeways. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 260 hp with 240 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels or all four wheels through the Xtronic CVT.

The version tested for this review was the mid-priced SV trim level with front-wheel drive. It had a base price of $35,485 and, with a modest list of options, checked in at $39,230. Add $1,600 if you want all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 mpg.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-24Handling, of course, is not as crisp as the Maxima’s but the Murano acquits itself well, with little body roll, on twisting mountain roads. Its forte, however, is more attuned to quiet, straight-line cruising with the audio cranked up and the kids on their video games with earphones.

The SV trim eschews leather upholstery in favor of a sturdy embossed cloth, which to some people — including this critic — is more comfortable over a wide range of temperatures than leather. On the Murano, the cloth covers a supportive seat structure that takes the fatigue out of long-distance cruising.

A nearly flat floor should enhance comfort in the center-rear seating position. Unfortunately, the cushion is high and hard, and knee room is compromised by intrusion of the center console.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-11Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum Reserve four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 300 hp, 261 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,676 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,335.
  • Price as tested: $43,835.

*   *   *

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Murano SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 260 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/31 cubic feet. (65)
  • Weight: 3,837 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,485
  • Price as tested: $39,230.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-5Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Playing hardball with its exceptional 2019 Santa Fe, Hyundai is on the verge of realizing its full competitive lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles.

It’s an important milestone, given the phenomenon of crossover sales that lately have been overpowering traditional sedans and coupes. In the 2017 model year, the South Korean company offered just two nameplates: the compact Tucson and the Santa Fe, a midsize offered with either two or three rows of seats. An earlier Veracruz model had been dropped in 2011.

Large-34014-2019SantaFeEarly in 2018, the brash new Kona arrived as smaller sibling of the Tucson. Now comes the two-row, midsize Santa Fe, formerly called the Santa Fe Sport, which will be followed by an all-new, as yet unnamed, large three-row, eight-passenger crossover. That will complete the lineup unless Hyundai decides to squeeze in another something someplace.

The existing three-row Santa Fe continues unchanged for about a year, after which it will be consigned to that great crossover retirement community in the sky. It will be sold as the Santa Fe XL until its replacement arrives.

The Santa Fe comes in five trim levels — SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate — with a starting price of $26,485, including the destination charge. All come with front-wheel drive standard. Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive costs an additional $1,700.

As some other manufacturers have done, the Santa Fe eschews stand-alone options in favor of escalating lists of features for each trim level. The tested top-of-the-line Ultimate, at $39,905, had only one minor option of $125 for carpeted floor maps.

Large-34019-2019SantaFeThere are two powertrains: 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 178 lb-ft of torque on the S, SEL and SEL Plus trims, and a 235-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 260 lb-ft of torque on the Limited and Ultimate models. All versions come with eight-speed automatic transmissions and idle stop-start.

Most notable from a peace of mind standpoint are two safety innovations. Rear Occupant Alert monitors the back seats with an ultrasonic sensor that detects movement of children or pets. As with some other vehicles, the system alerts drivers to check the rear seats after stopping and before exiting.

But the Santa Fe takes it to another important level. If for some reason a distracted driver forgets or ignores the warning, leaves the vehicle and locks the doors, the system honks the horn and sends an alert to the driver’s smart phone via Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system. The innovation could prevent some of the 37 deaths that occur annually in the U.S., on average, of children left in hot cars.

Large-34023-2019SantaFeThe other system mimics blind-spot warning. If a rear-seat passenger tries to open a door and an oncoming car is detected, both visual and audio warnings are triggered. Also, it will prevent the driver from deactivating the electronic child safety lock until the oncoming car has passed.

Besides those safety features, the Santa Fe also comes with Hyundai Safety Sense, which includes forward collision avoidance, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot and lane-departure warning.

On the road, the tested all-wheel drive Santa Fe Ultimate delivered strong acceleration, a resilient ride and responsive handling. Tactile steering feedback felt more like a capable sedan than a tall crossover. Partly responsible was the all-wheel drive torque vectoring that apportioned the power to the rear wheels depending on road conditions, abetted by relocation of the rear shock absorbers.

Large-34029-2019SantaFeThere are three drive modes that adjust steering feel, ride motions and transmission shift points. Normal is the main setting for daily driving. Smart enhances fuel economy and Sport tightens everything up for improved performance, especially in challenging conditions like twisting mountain roads.

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifted unobtrusively and can be manually shifted. However, shifting must be done with the console-mounted lever; there are no steering-wheel mounted paddles.

On smooth roads, the Santa Fe Ultimate was almost eerily quiet with only vague road and mechanical noises. There was no detectable wind noise. Comfort was first-cabin with the headliner and pillars upholstered in a soft cloth that would do justice to a living-room divan.

Contributing to the comfort were “variable density” front seats with power extensions to provide extra thigh support, as well as acoustic glass and a rigid body structure that makes extensive use of high-strength steel and strong structural adhesives.

Summing up, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate competes handily and almost lazily against other midsize crossover contenders.

Large-34046-2019SantaFeSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 235 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 111/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,960 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,780.
  • Price as tested: $39,905.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Large-34008-2019SantaFePhotos (c) Hyundai

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Q: When is an Eclipse not an Eclipse? A: When it’s a 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.

Okay. It has nothing to do with the eclipse of the sun that plunged parts of the United States into total darkness on Aug. 21, 2017.

Nope. It’s about an all-new crossover sport utility vehicle from  Mitsubishi of Japan that reprises a name from the past but on a completely different vehicle.

2018 Eclipse Cross

The original Eclipse was a sports coupe and convertible marketed in four different versions over 22 years from 1990 to 2012. For some of that time, Mitsubishi had a relationship with Chrysler, and the Eclipse also was rebadged as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser.
Resurrecting the Eclipse name injects a dose of familiarity into a new vehicle that aims to take advantage of the stampede of buyers to crossovers — at the expense of traditional sedans and station wagons.

Some crossovers are little more than jacked-up hatchbacks with a bit of extra ground clearance and, in most cases, optional all-wheel drive. That’s not the case with the Eclipse Cross, which was designed from the get-go as a crossover with front- or all-wheel drive.

2018 Eclipse Cross

It is slightly smaller than popular compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, competing more directly against the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Niro, Nissan Rogue Sport and Hyundai Kona.

As such, it is an affordable vehicle for singles, couples and small families who seek low-cost wheels with decent cargo space. It also is a tidy package for parking and negotiating urban traffic.

The Eclipse Cross is 14 feet 5 inches long with 95 cubic feet of space for passengers and 23 cubic feet for cargo behind the second-row seats. It has edgy styling, especially when viewed from the rear, which dictates a split tailgate window.

Though that restricts rear vision somewhat, the designers made up for it by installing rear headrests that slide up for passengers and down for a better view behind. The rear seats can be adjusted fore and aft to divvy space between passengers and cargo, and the backs fold nearly flat to expand the cargo area. The cargo floor, which is a tad high, hides a full-size temporary spare wheel and tire.

2018 Eclipse Cross

There are five trim levels, ranging from the front-drive ES at $24,900 to the SEL Touring at $31,390. The base price of the tested SE model with Mitsubishi’s S-AWC electronically controlled all-wheel drive  was $27,390. (The S-AWC, which stands for Super All-Wheel Control, has driver selectable adjustments for snow, gravel and automatic operation). With a few minor options, the tested price came to $27,715.

Power comes from a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 152 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a manual-shift mode.

With such a small engine, expectations were not high. But the combination delivers a strong and sprightly surge off the line, making the Eclipse Cross feel faster than it actually is. Though many critics deride CVTs for a sensation that the transmission is slipping, this one has very little of that. The small crossover cruises happily at freeway-plus speeds, though city/highway/combined fuel economy is just 25/26/25 mpg — likely because the little engine has to work hard.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Inside, comfort is first rate. The SE model came with heated and  luxurious cloth seats that were relaxing and supportive, with prominent seatback bolsters to coddle the torso. Seat adjustments were manual but allowed fine tuning. Outboard seats in back are similarly accommodating and even the center-rear position, though less comfortable, is at least usable.

Equipment included blind-spot warning, lane departure assist and rear cross-traffic alert; heated and automatic folding outside mirrors;  dual-zone automatic climate control; pushbutton starting, electric parking brake, rain-sensing windshield wipers; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; fog lights, and HD and SXM satellite radio.

The center touchscreen controls were not intuitive and required close attention to operate, so would be distracting to a driver trying to make adjustments while underway. Better to get things set up before moving off. Though there were remote audio buttons on the steering wheel, there was no volume control knob.

Despite its minor faults and Mitsubishi’s relatively low profile in the U.S., the new Eclipse Cross deserves a look for anyone seeking an entertaining and inexpensive crossover.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 152 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,550 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/26/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,390.
  • Price as tested: $27,715.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Photos (c) Mitsubishi.

 

2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The most important and difficult thing in the automotive business is an institutional ability to predict the future. Bavarian Motor Works has actually managed some of that soothsaying, of which the 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i is a prime example.

Starting with the X5 in 1999, the German manufacturer has expanded its lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles to plug every size and power niche in the premium category—to the point where there are now seven distinct models: X1, new X2, X3 reviewed here, X4, X5, X6 and the upcoming X7, plus higher performance versions.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-001Whether the company was reacting to a trend or sucking its collective thumb contemplating where the market was headed, it has caught the wave of buyer infatuation with crossover SUVs, which are proliferating in every price class.

It remains to be seen whether this is a passing fad, but no matter. BMW also has a garage full of sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports cars in case there’s a course correction. We’ll skip self-driving cars for now.

Meanwhile, the company, which manufactures many of its crossovers at its plant in Spartanburg, S.C., entices high-end customers with machines like the new X3 xDrive 30i and the higher-performance — and higher-priced — X3 M40i.

P90263768_highResA note about BMW nomenclature: a lower-case i identifies a sedan like the 330i or 550i, the i3 electric car, or even the i8 hybrid sports car. If a capital X precedes a number, it is what BMW calls a “sports activity vehicle,” known in the business as a crossover SUV. A lower-case x, as in xDrive, designates any BMW with all-wheel drive. Oh, there’s also the Z4 two-seat sports car. And if there’s an M somewhere in the title, it’s a higher-performance or better decorated model. Write it down.

The model numbers actually don’t mean much anymore. You might assume that the tested X3 xDrive 30i comes with a 3.0-liter engine. Nope. Because modern engines with turbocharging are getting smaller, this one actually delivers 248 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor.

Step up to the higher-performance X3 M40i and the engine actually is a 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbochargers that makes 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Enough said.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-003Back to the subject, the U.S.-built X3 30i. This is a nicely executed compact crossover with the power and features expected in this category. However, as with other automakers, BMW has an extensive options list and charges extra for equipment that is standard elsewhere.

For example: The $3,300 Premium package includes a heated steering wheel, navigation system and head-up display. Tack on another $350 for the heated front and rear seats. The $2,850 Convenience package gets you a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry, lumbar support and SXM satellite radio.

Continuing: The $1,400 Dynamic Handling package includes M Sport brakes, dynamic adaptive shock absorbers and variable sport steering, while the $900 Driving Assistance package covers blind spot and lane departure warning. The Parking Assist package covers a surround-view camera, active parking assist and distance control.

P90263747_highResThere also are individual options, including $1,700 for Vernasca leather upholstery, $875 for a premium Harman Kardon audio system, $300 for Apple CarPlay, $500 for wireless device charging and $550 for metallic paint.

You get the picture. All of that brought the test X3’s base price of $43,445 up to $57,620. Of course, there also were many desirable items that were part of the standard equipment, including the eight-speed automatic transmission, driver-selectable driving modes, hill-descent control, automatic stop/start, garage-door opener, dark oak wood interior trim, leather-covered steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED low-beam headlights and fog lights, and a power tailgate.

P90263757_highResMuch of that, of course, is frosting that doesn’t affect the basic driving goodness of the X3, which hews to BMW’s traditional dedication to performance, handling and braking. The X3, however, also delivers a luxury ambiance enhanced by a quiet cabin. You hear the engine under hard acceleration but highway cruising at a steady speed is almost tranquil.

Overall, however, this is an inviting modern conveyance that delivers a competent, pleasurable and comfortable driving experience with a dose of excitement. With sales of 40,691 in 2017, it is BMW’s third-best selling model, behind the 3-Series compact sedan and midsize X5 crossover SUV.

X3 competitors include the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque and the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-006Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 285 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,156 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/29/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,445.
  • Price as tested: $57,620.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

P90263762_highResPhotos (c) BMW.

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